Friday, November 28, 2008
After that it’s a question of where to go facially. I’ve been clean-shaven, bearded, goatee’d and moustachioed in my time but over the past ten years or so, there’s been very little time I’ve not had facial hair. I’m lazy when it comes to shaving so chances are high that I’ll end up with the beard again. That said, I wouldn’t mind trying out a Deadwood maybe. It would take some grooming but I reckon I could carry it off – especially here in Newcastle, where bizarre facial hair is de-rigeur.
If nothing else, I’d much rather get Al Swearengen comparisons that the slanderous observation I had levelled at me yesterday. There I was, waiting in line at Bodega for my morning coffee, only to be told that I bore a startling resemblace to Kip from Napoleon Dynamite. What do you say to that? It’s not exactly what I was hoping for when I started this whole moustache thing going some 28 days ago. Tom Selleck, yeah. Kip from Napoleon Dynamite, nope. Hell, even Hitler would have been less of an insult. Speaking of vegetarian mass-murderers, I did contemplate growing a Hitler when November first started out. When I was having my 31st October clean-shave, I even left myself a Hitler moustache just to see what it looked like before completing the shaving process. The result? Not a good look. I can see why they’re not being worn by the kids these days, put it that way.
If you’ve not yet sponsored me, please hurry up and do so. You only have another few days and let’s face it; I’ve kept my end of the bargain. I’ve grown a large, bushy, embarassing moustache which has drawn a comparison to one of cinema’s best dweebs. I’ve groomed it lovingly for 28 days and even posted a picture of it so that you could all see what it looked like. What’s more, this is only the second time I’ve hassled you for a donation. Last year I was much more tenacious. All in all, I think I’m good for your money.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Brisbane was hit very severely by storms last week so I'd packed my swimmers more out of optimism than anything. Thankfully the storms didn't get as far south as Surfers Paradise, which is around 80km south of Brisbane. We arrived at Surfers at 9.30am and the temperature was around 28 degrees. Once we'd checked out our exhibition stand, we took a wander down the main strip and found a coffee shop. It even served my favourite coffee, although I have to say that Gavin makes it better. Anyway, we sat and drank our coffee as we watched the world go by - and I quickly came to the conclusion that the region should be renamed. Gold Coast is all very promising and pretty as names go, but I think "Mahogany Coast" would be more apt. Everyone I saw seemed to have borrowed Donatella Versace's skin. The only exception were the few schoolies that were out that early. Most of them were still in bed I think.
Once we'd returned to the hotel, it was a case of erecting our exhibition stand and grabbing some lunch with the conference delegates. Then we manned the stall as they all came around to talk with us and the other exhibitors. I had a really good time and got to meet loads of my brokers, many of whom I'd never see because they all work so far away from Newcastle.
The exhibition was due to run from 2pm until 5pm. By around 3.30pm, everyone had passed through and we were free to do our own thing. All that standing around and talking takes it out of you and the 5am start wasn't helping any either. I decided to check in to my room, sort my attire out for the evening's formal dinner and then head down to the beach.
Halfway through ironing my shirt, the phone in my room rang. It was Daniel and he'd decided to accompany me to the beach, a mere task of crossing the street and heading down the road. I was a little apprehensive because although the weather was significantly better than the Newcastle we'd left behind that morning, the sea was more than likely going to be around 16 celsius. The minute I walked into the surf, I knew I didn't have to worry. Queensland is closer to the equator than Newcastle and the distance made all the difference. The water was absolutely marvellous and after we'd finished swimming, we checked out the hotel's pool before going our separate ways and getting ready for the formal dinner.
The dinner itself was very well organised. The food was good and the entertainment they laid on was actually very funny. My experience of corporate speakers and entertainment hasn't always been positive but in this instance it was a magician-cum-comedian called Matt Hollywood. Maybe I was just enjoying myself and in a good mood, but let's be charitable and say that he was very enjoyable.
After dinner, the usual drinkin' and dancin' ensued. I don't drink and that has a knock-on effect to the chances of seeing me on a dance floor. Oh; that and the fact that I have the rythmn of a cadaver, of course. I spent the evening chatting to various people, introducing myself to people I'd not had a chance to meet previously and, in the end, found myself sitting on my hotel balcony in my shorts at around 11.30pm as the wolf whistles and occasional shouts from the schooles on the streets below permeated my self-satisfied little moment. I should stress that the schoolies weren't wolf-whistling me.
This morning the alarm went again at 5am. I slept relatively well but you know what it's like in hotels - you never sleep as well as you do in your own bed. I was in reception at 6am to meet my colleagues, ready for the drive home. The last time I'd seen Daniel, he'd been pretty wasted in the bar and it came as no surprise when he rolled up at 6.30am looking rather ill. The sad thing was that he'd not even lasted the distance. He'd gone up to his room around 1.30am yet as we were getting ready to leave to head back to the airport at 6.30am, two of the delegates came back to the hotel. They'd left the hotel bar at 1.30am and had gone on to the local casino. Yes, they spent the whole night at the casino tables and now they were grabbing a quick shower before heading back down for another day of the conference! I've only ever been to one casino in my life - and that was to look around rather than place anything resembling a bet. I don't see their appeal but each to their own I guess. Put it this way; I don't feel like an old square for having been in bed before midnight (even though I have to admit I probably am).
We left straight away to get back to Brisbane, drop off the hire car and get on the flight back to Newcastle. It turned out to be good that Daniel was so late meeting us in reception. If he'd have come down on time, chances are we'd have had breakfast at the hotel before heading off. As it happened, we left as soon as he came down, telling ourselves that we'd get breakfast at the airport instead. Just as well, seeing as the journey from Surfers to Brisbane took close to 2 hours because of roadworks and the peak-hour traffic. Anyway, we got there on time, got our hire car back, got on the plane and I'm writing this from the comfort of my front room.
I had a good time up in Queensland and I'm pleased to be able to say that I've been there. I think the best thing around the Brisbane/Gold Coast area is the weather. It's warmer than Newcastle, which isn't cold at the best of times. I can't see myself ever living there, though. Maybe it's different the further north you go, but the whole place was a bit skyscraper-tacky for my liking. If you want miles of golden sands and high-rise apartment blocks, you'll like the Gold Coast. Nope; if we go anywhere, I'll be trying to persuade Vanessa to make it Melbourne.
So now it's after 11pm at night. I just tried to call my mother at work to wish her a happy birthday but she's not back in the office until midnight our time and, in all honesty, I'll be dead to the world by then. Hopefully I can catch her in the morning - the evening of her birthday over in the UK.
Rather than faff about inserting photos in various sections of this posting, I'm just going to dump them all at the end. Just basic shots of my trip. Before too long, I should be able to put up some pictures of our new lounge room too. I did some more painting earlier this evening and all I have to do tomorrow is put a second coat on a small section of wall before I can say that the walls are finished. Then it's the one-coat ceiling paint, the quad and the glosswork and we're done. Whisper it, but this weekend might just see us ready to move the lounge room into the front. Maybe.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Slowly but surely, the week drags to its conclusion. The working week anyway. Yesterday saw Vanessa & I at Watt Space, the University of Newcastle gallery which exhibits student’s work. Vanessa is about to finish the final subject of her fine arts degree and she had some paintings in the exhibition. Before that she had her final assessment, so it’s been a very busy time for her. The work she’s done is all based around the culture of celebrity and I can honestly say I think it’s the best stuff she’s ever done.
Afterwards, we found ourselves at Hamilton getting Turkish pide for dinner. More melted cheese than I’ve ever seen on one item. Not bad for $10. By the time we’d eaten, there was precious little time for anything except sleep. Like I said, it’s been quite a hectic week, what with exhibitions and work and painting.
On the subject of painting, this whole renovating/renewal thing has even migrated to work it seems. Earlier this week my colleague Paul decided that our cleaner was crap. No news there – she’s absolutely shocking. He grabbed a bottle of Ajax and a tea towel and, before you could say ‘bam and the dirt is gone’, his desk was clean and sparkly. That inspired me to take the Ajax and cloth myself. Problem was that the more I cleaned, the more I found myself thinking ‘maybe my shelves would look better over there rather than here’. That mutated into ‘why don’t I put my computer here and my phone here – and why don’t I swap those two small trays for a long shelf’. Before you knew it, I’d deconstructed my desk and what should have been a ten minute clean-up became a forty-five minute renovation job. I doubt you’ll look at this picture of my desk and appreciate what a shrine to ergonomics it now represent but, trust me; I’ve done a corking job even if I do say so myself. Not a cockroach poo in sight and finally I can bring in all those files which have been sitting at home, untouched for all this time.
We have a busy weekend coming up. Henry’s cricket will take up Saturday morning but the good news is that they’re playing at the park at the bottom of Paul & Felicity’s street. I’m sure we can stop by their house afterwards and ooh/ahh at their renovation. Now theirs is a proper renovation, involving extensions and all sorts. They probably look at my definiton of the word ‘renovate’ and sneer but I don’t really feel like singlehandedly building additional rooms and we can’t afford it right now anyway. Maybe one day but, for now, the painting will just have to do.
After Henry’s game of cricket, we’re driving down the the Central Coast to meet Barbara & Darren for lunch. Barb’s one of Vanessa’s friends from when she taught high school in Mt Druitt all those years ago. They live in Adelaide now but they’re in Sydney for a visit, so we’ve agreed to meet halfway for lunch. I plan to pack my swimmers although, having said that, I really should check the weather forecast. Pointless otherwise.
You think the Saturday fun ends there? Foolish mortals. In the evening we’re out to see Henry perform as part of a Tantrum Theatre production. Henry started going to Tantrum earlier this year and this will be the second production he’s been part of. The last one was very well done and now he’s part of the older age group. I don’t remember the exact title of the production he’s in but it’s something to do with bullies and nerds. The kids wrote it themselves and they’ve cast Henry as a bully. If he pulls it off exquisitely, I’ll be trying to persuade Vanessa that it says more about his acting abilities than his playground habits. We shall see.
Sunday’s up in the air at the moment I think. After such a hectic, structured Saturday that’s maybe no bad thing. Vanessa will be working on stuff for her stall at the Art Bazaar more than likely. That should give me time to cut the grass, maybe do some gardening and most likely get some more painting done. I’ve already warned Henry that the computer’s going to be covered with a thick dropsheet most of the weekend, so I should be able to get the front room walls practically done. Then it’s just a case of teetering precariously on the world’s most rickety wooden ladder and doing the ceiling. Quad aside, the front room’s then done. Who knows – maybe we can migrate the lounge into the front of the house soon?
I also have to buy a suit jacket on Sunday, as I fly up to Brisbane early on Monday morning to attend a conference being held by one of my Brokers there. I’ve never been to Queensland, so I’m really looking forward to it. Although we fly into Brisbane, the actual conference is being held at Surfers Paradise and to cap it all off, my hotel looks to be a 2 minute walk from the beach. If the board shorts don’t get an outing tomorrow on the Central Coast, chances are they’ll be wet by the time I land back at Newcastle some time on Tuesday. Who knows - maybe I'll get lucky and get in twice?!
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
That brings me on nicely to decorating (or renovating as they call it over here). Right now, we’re in the process of swapping rooms around in the house. At present, we have the lounge room at the back and the dining room in the middle. The front room, where I sit and type this now, is what I will charitably call a 'work in progress'. To put it a less charitable way, it's where shit gets dumped. Put it behind a waterfall and it's where the elephants in old Tarzan films would have gone to die. Why a terminal elephant felt the desire to trek through the jungle, wade into a waterfall pool and swim to the secret cave behind the falls to expire is logic that's always eluded me. Having said that, it's been close on thirty years since I saw the Tarzan film where that featured and the image has stuck with me, so whatever reasons the elephants had for wanting to wheeze their final tusky breath in a dank cave, I salute their courage.
So yeah; our front room. Firstly we used it to store stuff. Then we partitioned it using bookcases to form a kind of third bedroom. When my friend Petra was doing her big Antipodean tour two years ago, it was there that she slept when she stayed with us. If only she'd stayed permanently there's a fair chance that the room would have retained a purpose. As I've intimated, it just became a dumping ground. If the computer wasn't in the front room, it's questionable how often we'd use it.
This winter just gone was probably the coldest since I arrived here in 2005. As the only room with a gas outlet, the front room also houses our only gas heater. I think it was this winter that made Vanessa more certain that we should use the room more. After all, there's precious little to do when winter hits and it's cold outside and your only decent heating source is in a junk room.
So to cut a long story short, we decided to swap some rooms around. Vanessa & I chucked various ideas around and, in fairness to her, I pooh-poohed and ridiculed them all. Then I did what I always do - I had a think about it and decided she may have a point. You would think I'd have learned by now, wouldn't you?
Some of you will know what our house looks like and others won't. This post will work much better if you have an idea what I'm talking about. In homage to Blue Peter, here's one I made earlier. And yes Vanessa; I know it's misshaped and not to scale but I did it from memory in between work phone calls at 4.30pm today......
So the plan is this: Move the dining room into the lounge room, move the lounge room into the elephant's graveyard and make the old dining room a third bedroom. After all, we'd much prefer to advertise this house with a real estate agent as a 'three bedroom bijou residence' rather than 'two bed and inbuilt municipal dump feature' if we ever put it on the market. Who wouldn't?
Sure, there's a bit of work to do yet but this is how it'll look eventually:
I think it'll look pretty snazzy, all truth told. I'll make sure that I photograph the end result so that you can see how it ends up.
In the short term, we have to get the new front room and the new dining room decorated in time for christmas. I'm hoping that if I type that quickly enough, you'll read it and think 'oh yeah, in time for christmas, that's alright' - rather than thinking '37 days to paint two rooms, buy quad for both rooms, cut and stain the quad, fix the quad.... he's dreaming'. Yes, it's going to be a full few weeks, to put it mildly.
That said, it's achievable. Vanessa and I started painting a few weeks back and sort of got preoccupied with other things. Now Vanessa's busy with her final university subject - not to mention preparing for an exhibition (opens Thursday) and the craft market on December 6th in which she's selling her crafty wares. As a result, I'm doing most of it myself. I'm not saying that to make my wife feel bad. As strange as it sounds, I'm actually quite enjoying doing it myself. Granted I couldn't paint a straight edge if my life depended on it, but I can get the actual paint on the walls and the ceiling (and the floor, and me) without too much trouble. I even get to hog iTunes and listen to what I want to listen to without having to take it in turns. The Kings Of Leon are good for edging but when it comes to rollering the crap out of a surface, it's hard to see past the Kaiser Chiefs.
Tomorrow night we're out at another exhibition opening. After that we'll get home and I'll put the second coat on the far wall whilst listening to Saturday's Fighting Talk podcast. Chances are that I'll enjoy myself, in all honesty. And the chances that I'll still be up at 3am on christmas morning, madly trying to finish the dining room before Vanessa's family arrive for presents and a meal? It won't happen. It won't, I tell you.
Most of you will remember that I participated in Movember last year. In case you don’t remember, the plan went something like this:
1 Have a clean shave on the 1st of November.
2 Grow and groom a horrendously seventies moustache all the way through November
whilst remaining clean-shaven in other areas*
3 Harangue and emotionally blackmail people into sponsoring said growth to raise
copious amounts of cash for charidee.
* Facially. We’re not talking full body wax or anything. Apologies if that’s not a nice visual, by the way.
Well I have news for you. I’m participating in Movember again this year and I come to you with a deal: I’ll provide you with pictures of me looking stupid and, in return, you will sponsor me. How d’ya like them apples?
The picture at the top is me clean shaven. That’s how I looked on the first of this month. Seventeen days into November, this is how I’m looking now.
Personally, I think it’s a toss-up as to when I looked more ridiculous; the start of the month or right now. As you can see, I decided against supplementing my mo with a soul patch. Although they’re within the rules, my brother felt that it was ‘cheating’ last year and I think this may have affected his sponsorship donation. I’m hoping that the lack of a soul patch this year will also be factored into his generosity.
Movember is a worldwide event and raises money for selected charities. Here in Australia, we’re fundraising for two: Beyond Blue (the national depression initiative) and the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia. I raised just short of $200 last year and whilst there are people who raised a lot more, I was very happy with my efforts. I’d like to do better this year and, given that most of you reading this are in the UK (and given the exchange rate at present) I think it’s more than feasible.
So please; be as generous as you’re able. It really is for a good cause - two of them, in fact. And I really do look silly – even by local mullet-sporting, shambling Novacastrian standards – that’s got to be worth at least a tenner in your pounds sterling, surely?
If you need any more motivation, consider the following: Depression affects 1 in every 6 Australian men. That’s likely to rise to 4 in 6 when England reclaims The Ashes next year, but I digress. Depression can manifest in a number of horrible ways, such as addiction, thoughts of suicide or even wanting to buy Nickelback CDs. For every dollar you donate, you reduce the risk of a young adult feeling that life is over.... that Nickelback is the only way out. Go on – you know it makes sense.
You need more convincing? Okay, let’s talk prostates. For a nation seemingly hooked on watching muddy men roll around in homoerotic manner whilst pretending to care about holding onto a leather oval ball, Australian men really don’t like having other people’s fingers up their posteriors. I know; I’m as surprised as you are. Your donation will help keep Australian anuses unviolated by latex-clad digits. On a more serious note though, prostate cancer was diagnosed in 18,700 Australian men last year. More than 2,900 of them died from it. That’s equivalent to the number of women who die from breast cancer annually, and just look at the publicity breast cancer awareness and fundraising receives compared to prostate cancer. Prostate cancer’s playing serious catch-up (and yes; I’m proud of myself for avoiding the obvious ‘bringing up the rear’ gag) so really; your donation will be gratefully received. How gratefully? I promise to call you and thank you personally for it. That gratefully.
I figure by now you’re either sold or you’re prepared to pay to stop me pontificating. All good – here’s how you go about ending this torture.
You can give in one of two ways. You can click here and donate via credit card or via your Paypal account, whichever suits. If you don’t have a Paypal account, I’d recommend the credit card option but I always did have trouble thinking outside the square – that’s why I’m not running my own dotcom. Alternatively if you’d like to pay homage to sponsorship as it was in the 1950s, all you need do is write a cheque payable to ‘Movember Foundation', make reference to my Movember Registration Number 1351946 and mail it to: Movember Foundation, PO Box 292, Prahran VIC 3181 Australia. Who knows – it may even have arrived by the time I shave my moustache off on December 1st.
If what I’ve said hasn’t persuaded you then let me just close by saying this: Think of my wife. She has to be seen in public with me and possibly even kiss me looking like this. For a full thirty days. If you donate for no other reason, donate for that.
Monday, November 17, 2008
On a more serious note, I’ll try to keep the temperature updates to a minimum and max out on actual news, opinions and maybe even a photo or two. I’ll also try to make it look a bit more snazzy. If there’s one thing I know now, it’s that blogs these days can look pretty damned fine when you put your mind to it. Vanessa checks a lot of craft and art blogs and some of them look like professional websites. Gone are the days where brown on beige is acceptable, although I will always have a soft spot for my original blog and its poo-inspired colour scheme.
So why didn’t I just continue the one I used to write? I wanted to start from scratch really. The things I wrote about for the year-and-a-bit after arriving in Australia still have some relevance and I do enjoy reading them every so often but I think it’s time for something new now. When I started my Random Ramblings blog, everything was new. It was very much a comment about what was different and, coming up on four years down the track now, this place isn’t different any more. It’s the norm; the day to day. It’s still very special but it’s no longer new. It’s my life; where I am.
So where am I? For those of you who need a reminder I am in a city called Newcastle, a few hours north of Sydney in New South Wales, Australia. I’m in the southern hemisphere, some 11 hours forward and 12,000 miles SE of the UK. It’s a good place to be, in all fairness. It has a thriving arts scene and some great live music. It has two very local, very fine beaches and plenty more within a 30 minute drive. It’s a working port, one of Australia’s busiest deep-water ports in fact. Tankers come in and out throughout every day, with grain and coal being the major exports from the area.
The city itself is slowly changing. There’s still a lot of heavy industry in the area but the old BHP works closed down some time ago and, now that you can hang your washing on the line without it getting sooty, Newcastle’s being targeted by the property developers. The times, they are a-changing, as Bob Dylan opined so nasally – and not everyone’s happy about it.
Sometimes I think of Newcastle as an Australian equivalent of Bristol – just with beaches, an extra cathedral and without Park Street’s calf-sapping hill. Both are port cities and both were subject to revitalisation. Having called Bristol a port city, I must be honest and say that I don’t really remember the docks at Bristol; they seemed in decline by the time I was old enough to realise they existed. All I could see was that they appeared closed for business and seemingly characterised by derelict quaysides. Going back to Bristol now, it’s all changed. You walk to the quayside area and see the Arnolfini and the shops, the artsy cinema and the restaurants. It’s light years away from the Bristol I grew up in, back in the 1970s and early 1980s. Places change, evolve. Bristol did to a degree and it’s going to be interesting to see what happens to Newcastle over the next few years. Maybe it won’t change as much as people hope or fear, depending on which side of the fence you sit. Then again, maybe we’ll look back in five years time and struggle to remember when the mall was largely vacant shopfronts by day and a no-go zone by night. I think the truth will lie somewhere in the middle but, if everything goes to plan, you’ll be able to flick back to this first entry and see whether I got it right or not..... and whether I kept good on my promise to try not to mention the temperature as much as previously.
Change is inevitable and not just for cities. I have changed in the time I’ve been here, although it’s fair to say that I would have changed regardless of where I was living. That said, your surroundings shape the way you change and my changes have been shaped in part by the fact that I’m here in Australia and not in the South East of England. I’m sure my changes will continue and hopefully I’ll document them faithfully here so that you can see them and know they’re happening. It’s easy to feel detached when there’s a 12,000 mile gap. I’ve been guilty of not trying hard enough to bridge that distance in the past. I hope that this will help close the distance, albeit with some additional work on my part to supplement what’s essentially nothing more than an online diary.
Having done the ‘where am I’ bit, I was going to do a ‘who am I’ bit. I decided against that for now. For one thing, you all know who I am – or at least who I was last time you saw me. I could tell you who I am now but, let’s face it, that would just give you my take on events – and that might not be reflective of reality. I think rather than do that, I’d rather give you something to read and let you form your own conclusions. So here’s the first piece of your assignment. I will expect your 200 word critique on my desk by noon on Wednesday.
In closing for now, here’s a shot of the family. This is Vanessa, Henry and I on Christmas day 2007. For what it’s worth, I’m more grey now than I was back then, Henry’s taller now than he was back then and Vanessa’s still got a great smile. Maybe some things don’t change after all.